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Aficionados of Lansing theater are likely to remember Sam Tallerico who took the acting scene by storm in the 1980s. Initially, coming to Lansing to work in television at the fledgling Channel 47, he landed roles with the Lansing Civic Players, Spotlight Theatre and other groups.
“I was 28 at the time and I wanted to do theater,” Tallerico said. “My first production was ‘Grease’ at Lansing Community College. It was my first thing ever and I tried out for the cast.”
Tallerico made it as Kenickie. Theater goers liked his style, his quick wit and great voice. He resembled someone famous, but they couldn’t quite place him.
While in Lansing from 1983-1989, Tallerico attended Lansing Community College, graduating with a degree in American Sign Language. For a time, he said he did what every actor does: he worked as a waiter, at Sneaker’s.
He then moved to New York City to try his hand at acting there. He worked in what he calls “numerous off-off Broadway shows.”
Eventually, he found that theater wasn’t for him and he dropped out of the chase to work full time in interpreting. During his time in the city, Tallerico developed the habit of calling his mother, Earlene, every night. Usually, their conversations were fairly mundane, but one night, he learned a bit of information that shocked him.
His mom asked, “Would you have tried out for ‘American Idol’ if it was around when you were younger?”
He recalled how after singing “Greased Lightning” people told him he was born to sing ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, but he knew he wasn’t of “American Idol” caliber.
His mom continued: “I’m always surprised you say things like that, given your father was a professional musician.”
This piqued Tallerico’s interest. He knew he was adopted, but never made an effort to find his birth parents. No one ever mentioned a link to a musician.
Eventually, Tallerico would use this conversation as the start of his book, “Who Did You Say Your Father Was?”
Tallerico’s book follows his story as he set out to wade through a mire of complex adoption laws to find his birth parents. He initially discovered he was born to a single mom—a waitress in her thirties—and that he also had a sister, whom she had placed for adoption, and a brother, whom she kept.
Reports on his birth father were vague, only that he was in his middle 20’s, of Italian descent, good looking and that he sang professionally. More digging eventually unearthed who he felt to be the prime candidate: Bobby Darin.
Tallerico was shocked, but the more he looked at pictures of Darin, the more he saw the uncanny resemblance. He also hired a confidential intermediary to help with his search.
Working with the sketchy details he had, Tallerico learned that in order for his theory to check out, some evidence would have to be true: Darin would have had to be in Detroit sometime in 1957. Sure enough, in July 1957, the performer played a gig in Detroit. Tallerico was born in April 1958.
He documented learning these details in his book.
“Oh my God,” he said. “This was it.
Search over. Christine (the intermediary) stopped short of telling me her findings revealed that my biological father was Bobby Darin.”
That’s right. The singer of “Mack the Knife” was his biological father.
He then took the next logical steps. Darin, who died in 1973, had a son, Dodd Darin. Tallerico made numerous attempts at meeting his half-brother, but was rebuffed.
He also researched through his partner — a lawyer — a clarification about whether he would be entitled to any of Darin’s estate.
“I was relieved to find out I wasn’t. That would have made everything more complex. Michigan adoption law and a will precluded me from that,” Tallerico said.
“I didn’t want to go the National Enquirer route and make the story lurid and sensational,” he said.
Tallerico then wrote another letter to his half-brother hoping to meet to confirm DNA evidence, but he got back a cease and desist letter. There would no meeting, and without confirming DNA evidence there was nothing he could do.
But amid those frustrations Tallerico decided to write a book detailing his journey.
He also used the book to reaffirm that Darin may have been his biological father, but the couple who raised him in St. Clair Shores were his parents; his real mother and father.
The story should have ended there, but as I talked to Tallerico, he told the story of how on a long shot, he sent a swab sample to the popular DNA site 23andme.com. After a short wait, he got the news that there was a DNA confirmation tying his own DNA to Bobby Darin’s.”
I received a phone call from a distant relative of Darin,” he said. “Her father was Darin’s second cousin. The DNA confirmation validated my relationship. There was no longer any doubt.”
Tallerico said he hasn’t tried to reach out to his half-brother again.
“I had a feeling of rejection back then, but I still want to look into the eyes of my biological half sibling. Hopefully, the book hasn’t burned that bridge,” Tallerico said.
Regardless, Tallerico said he expects to update the book soon with the confirmation that he is Darin’s son.